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The death of George W. Bush, honest man

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Like Bob Somerby, I look back at what the press did to Al Gore and marvel at how shameless their campaign against him was. When Al Gore says, accurately, that in Congress he was the one who “took the initiative in creating the Internet,” the press reduces it to “Al Gore claims he invented the Internet.” Al Gore spent much of his childhood living in a modest D.C. residence hotel which has now, decades later, been remodeled into a luxury hotel–this becomes “Al Gore grew up in a fancy hotel.” Al Gore spent two years as an Army journalist and five years as a reporter at the Nashville Tennessean, which he routinely describes as “seven years” he spent as a journalist. This becomes, “Al Gore exaggerates his resume.”

On his site, The Daily Howler, Somerby has exposed in detail how the key myths about Al Gore originated at Republican National Committee headquarters with press releases, which got dutifully typed up by compliant and lazy reporters, and then became fact in the mind of many Americans. You can’t trust Al Gore became considered simply common knowledge by many Americans, even though the mythical “lies” the man told weren’t lies at all. Meanwhile, the Bush campaign told substantive and even vicious lies with impunity.

There was a thread recently on Blogcritics that explored why conservatives aren’t very well-represented in the creative arts, a field dominated by liberals. However, one thing the RNC is extremely good at is the kind of storytelling that works best in the national media. The RNC realizes that writing a presidential campaign is much like writing a screenplay for a Hollywood movie. The approach must be very simple: You need a hero with both an admirable quality and a flaw, an antagonist with a deep flaw and one good quality, and a story that is rigged to present these qualities in the best way for your hero.

The RNC wrote a brilliant script for Bush. Here’s the setup:

GEORGE W. BUSH: A plain-spoken straight shooter, has a little trouble articulating his ideas, but that’s just because he’s not a slick politician.

AL GORE: A pathological liar who succeeds only because he is smart and devious.

The story: The pathological liar constantly tries to make the straight-shooter look bad, but the liar is always undone by his own slickness, because the American people are smart enough to tell the liar from the straight-shooter.

It was a fine script, almost ingenious in its perversity. Bush, who really is a habitual liar, plays the straight shooter. Bush’s inability to explain his ideas becomes an asset–it’s because he’s not slick, not because the ideas are wrong-headed. Al Gore can’t open his mouth without being doubted. Bush won the debates before they even happened. Because he was the straight-shooter going up against the Master of Deception, it was enough just for him to stand there and not look like he was lying (even when he was). Anything Al Gore did would be perceived as a devious “tactic”–even sincerity would be considered a ruse. And, most perversely, the story treats the American people as if they’re stupid–but it depends on flattering them that they’re smart enough to see through Al Gore.

Brilliant. And useful. I’m writing a horror script right now. In it there is a scene where, for reasons too complicated to explain, a female character eats a live hamster. And here’s the thing–I have to to make this character remain sympathetic after the hamster-eating scene. It’s a tough trick. Hannibal Lector only killed and ate people, as far as I remember, and mainly chose to kill people we didn’t like anyway. Hamsters are a whole different matter. Everyone likes hamsters.

The RNC faced a similar problem with Bush. How do make a woefully inexperienced, prone-to-deceit, probably heartless child of privilege a sympathetic protagonist? Answer: Just write the script in a way that paints a mirror image–project Bush’s worst qualities on his opponent, and make them even worse. Mario Puzo managed this trick with Vito Corleone: Sure, we say, Vito ain’t the nicest guy in town, but, hey, look at the other guys.

The press, knowing a good movie when it is handed to them, just wrote it up, and it became the story of the campaign. And it almost worked–George W. Bush nearly won the election.

As the man said, an intelligent Martian would look down on this and be very amused.

But perhaps the ridiculous notion that George W. Bush is a plain-spoken man of the people is nearing the end of its undeserved existence. The press always likes new stories, and there is a story waiting to be told that has the virtue of being true: The story of a cynical, deceitful President who has manipulated an emotionally vulnerable nation, for which he has contempt, into supporting a radical agenda that serves the interests of a very few at the expense of many.

Today, in an excellent Howler, Somerby points to evidence of a possible shift in the narrative. It’s a bit early to tell, but perhaps the this Administration’s “Culture of Lying,” as Somerby calls it, will become the major focus of the national press that it should be. This Howler is well worth reading.

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About Brian Flemming

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    Uhm, I’ve been convinced since day one (actually November 4, 2000, when I walked around the steets of New York City being incited to vote} wondering why citizens need to be prompted to vote, isn’t that their duty? As a foreigner, I thought this was a symptom of a society gone off course.

    But that just may be me.

  • Eric Olsen

    Brian, I agree with many of your points here, especially about the skill of the RNC in constructing mythic narratives, and I also think Gore got a raw deal from the press and the public regarding his personality and trustworthiness.

    BUT, I also think you are giving Bush a raw deal when it comes to his actions post-9/11. I, like many including Democratic journalists, belief Bush was transformed by 9/11, found his purpose and “calling” in the War on Terrorism, and has told the people of America, and the world, what he was going to do, then has done it. That’s why people trust him.

    He could still very well lose the next election, though, if the economy doesn’t pick up markedly, if he is identified too closely with corporate corruption, and is seen to be out of touch with other important issues like the environment.

  • Moe L. Curly

    Wow. How can I get some of those drugs you have been doing?
    I need a high like that.

  • http://www.happyvalleyasylum.com/ratched/ Marla

    CBS’s new poll doesn’t look so good for Dubya. People are a lot more concerned about domestic issues — a LOT — than terrorism or war at the moment, and Dems are scoring higher on those issues than the GOP. If the Dems can put together a coherent platform and get enough face-time, he may just become a “Lame” Dubya.

  • Thomas

    Have you noticed that most of the myths surrounding Vice President Gore during Campaign 2000 dealt with subjects that were trivial and inconsequential? That’s the brilliance of the Republican Strategy: Tell a lie that is big enough to get noticed and absorbed into the public consciousness, but keep it relatively small so that your opponent will look petty and vindictive if he tries to refute it.

  • http://www.well.com/~srhodes Steve Rhodes

    I’m afraid I don’t see any transformation in George Bush since 9/11 (except perhaps in the coverage and some people’s willingness to support him in a time of crisis).

    He still comes off as a smug guy completely out of his depth. The myth was he surrounded himself with competent people. The disasterous handling of Iraq puts a lie to that.

  • Dan

    What a load of crap! The media conspired to make Dubya look good, and impugn algore? This kind of alternative universe garbage gives new meaning to conspiracy theory! The invention of the internet had absolutely nothing to do with algore. I suppose inconvenient statements by slick willie’s protege like, his authorship of the earned income tax credit legislation, or how he discovered Love Canal, and don’t get me started on the Bhuddist monk fundraiser scandal, … So the media were trying to make him out to be a liar? He did a pretty good job of that himself! John F. Kerry said Clinton was an unusually good liar. Most people beleived what bubba said because he’s such a good liar. But after he had to admit that he was a liar on national TV, then people began parsing his well worded misleading statements. But algore was not a skilled liar. His lies were easy to detect. So far, Bush has told us the truth.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    Brian, I can’t deny the sneakiness of GOP operatives. Though Lee Atwater hastily recanted the tradition he had started on his death bed, it is alive and well. But, there is another aspect to the success of the Bush administration I can’t ignore. It would not be able to convince so much of the populace that sh– is sugar if so much of said populace were not eager and willing to believe that. As long as we have so many ignorant and/or credulous people in our country, convincing them that the Iraqis were behind 9/11, for example, will be easy.

    A solution? Other than possibly an educational campaign for grown-ups, I don’t know what can be done. When I say educational campaign, I don’t mean indoctrination. What I have in mind is teaching people analytical thinking skills, period. Where they go with them subsequently would be their business. It would be difficult. My law fraternity teaches high school seniors basics they should know about the Bill of Rights. When initially introduced to the provisions, the overwhelming majority of students say many of them should be repealed, as does the majority of the full population when polled. MEGO!

    And, be careful with that hamster scene. Roger Moore caught endless crap for shooting a snake eating a rabbit . . . and that is the norm, for Chrissakes.

  • http://www.well.com/~srhodes Steve Rhodes

    Did you read any of the links in Brian’s post? All of the lies you cited were myths.

    Gore ran a lousy campaign (he should have been able to beat Bush easily), but the media coverage didn’t help things.

    As I’ve said before, just watch Journeys with George to see how he charmed the press.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    I agree with Steve that we have to hold Gore contributorily negligent. He was so afraid of Right wing vilification of Clinton rubbing off on him, he passed on what could have been the best weapon in his arsenal.